Bill watched her go, frustration evident on every pore. Vincenza had told him about Sophie’s outburst in her attempts to fish for more information. One thing was clear; they couldn’t all go on living like this, tiptoeing around the big elephant that sat in their home. When Vin had told him about Sophie’s snappy comment, he’d taken that as a sign that she felt the same way as him, that there were as a chance to sort this out. He’d hoped that maybe it had been a sign that she was jealous, Vincenza had hinted that they’d presumed his disappearing act the last week was him sleeping with women. But the playboy life was over, he knew that. The thought of that now repulsed him.
He needed to speak to her, be honest...for the first time in his life. But she’d left before he’d had chance to speak. Ruing his lost chance, he shook his head, then headed upstairs to change into his cycling gear. Frustration might give him that extra kick, who knew?
“Hi Sara!” Sophie constantly felt inadequate next to her brother’s wife. She was stunning, tall, and willowy with long blond hair that was almost immaculate. Today she was breathtaking in a floor length strappy sundress that despite it being late September didn’t look out of place.
“Sophie! I’m so glad you came! Nick has just dived to the shop. He always panics that there’s not enough of everything whenever we have a party! Come in. Ethan will be ecstatic to see you.”
Sophie shook her head as she followed her sister-in-law into the house. Her brother panicked? She couldn’t believe that. He was the most compose and calmly collected man she’d ever known, and the thought of him rushing off in a flap made her chuckle.
Ethan was pleased to see her, but five year old Callie was more so.
“Aunty Yophie!” Since a child she’d struggled to pronounce her name, and no one corrected her now. Sophie loved the pet name, and loved that she still used it.
Squatting down she accepted the little girl’s hug, standing with her still wrapped around her she smiled at Sara, “I don’t visit often enough!”
Sara smiled, “we’re all busy, and Callie will never forget you coming to her dance recital a few weeks back. That made her day!”
Sophie loved her niece and nephew, but avoided their home more than was necessary because of the scorn of her brother, he was very vocal in his disagreement over her life choices, a topic they rarely discussed and definitely never agreed on.
But for the moment, she was with people who loved her, and she was glad to be free from the house, and the stresses it brought. She’d managed to avoid Bill and Vincenza since the encounter earlier, which was easier as Bill was cycling as usual, Vin was out with Ed, so she could put on cheesy movies and vegetate alone.
Saying that, she couldn’t have avoided them any longer, so she was more than glad of this refuge.
Following the family into the kitchen, she dropped her niece onto a high stool, then at her insistence held her hand whilst she talked to Sara. Sara was a manager of a boutique, a small but exclusive shop that served the upper echelons of society. That week a few A-list celebs had called in, so she told Sophie all about it as she filled her a glass of wine.
Within half an hour Nick had returned, and several of their friends, and some of Sara’s family had arrived. Along with a clown! A man who entertained the children from the second he entered the house.
Sophie sat in the back of the room with her wine and some peanuts and happily watched the party unfold, trying desperately to ignore the fact that the man in makeup was a bit on the creepy side.
Callie insisted that Sophie help them in the bath, and read the bedtime story, and it was after seven when she came back downstairs. Nick was sat on one of the kitchen stools, a tumbler of whisky in his hand, watching Sara as she moved confidently around the room, storing food in the fridge and cupboards.
“Asleep?” he asked as she took the seat beside her.
She nodded, “Ethan before I started, Callie by page five!”
He smiled, “good job!” Reaching over he filled her empty glass with wine, “you staying for supper?”
There had been no animosity today, they’d got on well, so Sophie smiled, “I’d love to,” she glanced at Sara, “if it’s ok?”
Sara beamed, “we’d love it!”
They ordered in Chinese and sat in the dining room to eat.
“So how’s work?” Sara asked. And when both siblings glared at her for venturing into the deliberately ignored topic, she chuckled. “You are both the same!! Nick, Sophie is an artist...get over it! Sophie, don’t be bullied by him!”
Sophie laughed, “well I have just won a big commission. Six books over the next three years. It won’t take up all my time, but the money is very good.”
“That’s wonderful! See you were right to persist with this!” Sara grinned as Nick rolled his eyes. “Nicholas Beck! You hate being wrong, but maybe this is one time when you need to admit that Sophie knew best!”
Sophie spluttered over her noodles, and Nick looked equally shocked. Sara merely laughed, and carried on eating.
Nick didn’t mention her success again, but there was less animosity between them than normal.
“Why don’t you stay?” Sara asked later as the two women washed dishes together.
Sophie usually made excuses, but today she had none, she’d even get chance to have breakfast with her niece and nephew.
“Would I be in the way?”
Nick shook his head, “I don’t want to think of you travelling home alone Sophie, it’s after nine now.”
So she stayed.
They’d drank too much wine, and eaten too much rich food, all meaning that Sophie tossed and turned all night. She also missed her cute attic bedroom, as chaotic as it was, it was exactly right for her; the thought of leaving it was almost as daunting as the thought of leaving her friends. But nothing was safe or guaranteed anymore, and the thought of that still scared her. But Bill was acting as though she meant nothing to him and Vin was siding in his camp...it was a realistic future prospect. And it caused no end of nightmares for her.
But it was early morning light when she opened her eyes to see a pair of wide blue eyes peering over the bed at her...Callie!
“Calista Beck! Are you creeping up on your Aunty?”
She broke into a huge toothless smile and Sophie covered her mouth in surprise, “has your tooth fallen out?” When the little girl nodded, Sophie grinned, “Wow! That must mean you are SO grown up!”
Callie nodded, “And I get to see the tooth fairy!” The gap in her teeth gave her a really cute lisp.
Sophie shook her head, “NO one sees the tooth fairy! She’s as secretive as Santa!” When Callie’s face fell, disappointment at the realisation she wouldn’t be witnessing the tooth fairy, she added, “but she will leave you a shiny coin...maybe Mama will take you out to buy something nice!”
Callie skipped down the stairs ahead of her aunt singing songs about all the chocolate and sweets she was going to buy...maybe not the best investment in the tooth fairy’s gift.
Half an hour later, after a fabulous breakfast time of chaos and kids, Sophie left, her regular offer of babysitting made, and politely acknowledged. Despite the frostiness, this had been the best visit to her older brother that she’d had in years.
The house was empty, but that was what she’d expected. It was Monday morning after all. Turning on the stereo, she ransacked her CD’s, Bill was into rock music and classical - a bizarre combination, Vincenza loved electric Europop! Sophie’s choice of old school MOR rarely got a look in, so she found an INXS album and blasted it out as she climbed into a bath. Submerged in the bubbles, she air-guitared along to ‘Devil Inside’ with Bill’s long handled loofah, for a moment letting her imagination drag her away from the moment, when she heard the doorbell.
Sophie had no intention of answering, but then she realised that her music was probably audible downstairs, whoever was at the door knew there was someone at home, and were leaning on the doorbell.
Groaning, kicking the neat pile of towels in anger, she wrapped her wet hair up into a pony tail, and dragged on her bathrobe. By the time she reached the door she was fuming, if this was another parcel of cycling gear that Bill had delivered because he ‘knew she’d be there’ she was likely to explode. With a grunt of displeasure she pulled back the door and scowled, only to be met by a laugh.
She took in the polished shoes, then up to the impeccably tailored suit, and finally to the face filled with humour. Miles Langley.
Miles bloody Langley. Sophie’s first thought was ‘how did he find me?’, then ‘what does he want?’ and then ‘how do I get rid of him?’ This was her private domain, her home; the last thing she wanted was him invading it. She’d had a perverse pleasure out of seeing him wrong footed at his sister’s wedding, but to see him in the front garden of her home, the home she shared with the man he thought was in love with her...well it was all too complicated.
The fantasy that was Miles Langley had finally been relegated to being just that, a childhood whim. And now he was pressuring her sanity, her personal space.
“Miles! What a surprise!”
He smiled in the smooth way that oozed confidence, “I didn’t mean to disturb your bath!”
She followed his eyes down to her bare legs, only they weren’t completely bare, rings of bath bubbles clung to her shins and feet. She felt the heat of a blush rise up, no longer was she the sexy siren from the wedding, instead in the terraced house, in her threadbare robe she was exactly what she was - Miss Average.
Waving a hand she dismissed his apology of sorts, “I’d been in it long enough, I’ve got a few deadlines, so I’m pleased you’ve kick started my morning. How did you find me?”
He had the decency to look a little sheepish at that question, “I bribed the receptionist at the hotel....”
The way the comment hung open he didn’t want to think about how he’d done that, his innuendo was enough. Yuk. How had she ever found this man so attractive? “Well it had better have been the best screw of her life, cos it’ll cost her her job!”
Sophie felt powerful at that comment and was rewarded by a raised eyebrow, “you really do bite!”
She nodded, “I am not the put upon idiot that I was Miles. I‘ve learnt to defend myself.”
Smiling he leaned against the doorframe, “it suits you!”
Despite the contrite way he said that, she could suddenly see that it was the reason he was here, he found that bite, that snappiness a challenge.
“I don’t think you’d be saying that if you’d really angered me!”
He noted the menacing tone and grinned again, “will you come out to dinner, just one night?”
The sudden change in topic surprised her, “you what? You come to my boyfriend’s home when he’s in work to ask me out on a date?”
Shrugging he smiled, “not really a date, more of a catch up!”
“We ‘caught up’ at your sister’s wedding, what makes you think we have ANYTHING else to talk about?”
Again that smooth smile threatened her equilibrium, “Well your companion kept disturbing us.”
Sophie sighed, “Miles, you were just my friend’s brother when I was a kid, you seem to think that we were best buddies or something. There really isn’t anything to talk about.”
He didn’t move, but he seemed to appear closer somehow, “Sophie, we always had a connection, you were more than a nuisance like Melody. We got on!”
Sophie wanted to gag in his face, but she knew that what little remained of her facade of being a lady wouldn’t allow that, he was deliberately disarming her, he knew exactly how he’d rejected her, after leading her on for so many months, this was an attempt to psychologically disarm her, “it seems our memories are different Miles, now I really am busy.”
She made to shut the door, but he wedged his foot in it, “I don’t go away Sophie, meet me tonight in the Round House. I’ll buy you dinner. One night! Then I’ll disappear.”
“Miles please!” She couldn’t bear the thought of being so closely involved with him, not anymore. Not whilst she still hadn’t dealt with the kiss with Bill anyway.
“Don’t make me beg Sophie! I won’t go away...tonight eight pm.”
With that he turned and walked away, leaving Sophie to shout at the wall with no one to listen.